Swept away by others’ choices

Theresa Montgomery

The city of New Orleans regularly updates its residents with an online situation report. At the bottom of the page, in small print, you can find the toll-free number for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

I think I can understand why it’s not more prominently posted.

As of last week, 8.2 million cubic yards of trash and debris had been collected from various ZIP codes throughout the city. Only a zillion cubic yards to go.

This is the city where jazz was born – the town that oozed exuberance and loved to share it.

It is not comforting to know the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has restored the New Orleans’ levees to, but not exceeding, their pre-Hurricane Katrina levels. Ignoring information, crossing federal fingers and hoping for the best didn’t work so well last year.

Warnings mean nothing if their messages are ignored.

Ample predictions had explicitly documented the inevitability of New Orleans’ structural vulnerability to a beast of a storm like Katrina. Geologists, filmmakers, newspapers such as The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers itself had sounded the alarm about the levees for years.

Despite this information, President Bush began to divert 20 percent of the funds necessary to shore up the levees of Lake Pontchartrain in 2004. He instead reallocated them to cover the rising costs of the war in Iraq and issues of homeland security.

The Gulf is now, in some way, the heart of our homeland. Its people may never again know what it means to feel secure. Such horrors as they’ve born leave insatiable, lifelong ghosts.

But we may have a hard-earned opportunity to benefit from the Gulf’s devastating losses.

We can realize that feeling insulated doesn’t make us invulnerable.

We can learn about things that make us uncomfortable. By acting on what we learn, we can save ourselves from outcomes from which we feel inoculated in better times.

We may discover we tend to resemble those we hold at fault for the deplorable lack of assistance for those left destitute and displaced in aftermath of Katrina.

Even after the storm, we may be conditioned to hitting the snooze button. We sleep right through issues – and, when we feel like it, wake up later to smell the coffee. And we ignore warning signs, walling out information that might bring with it an unwanted awareness.

Awareness often brings with it a responsibility to leave our comfort zones, question our deeply held assumptions and act from real, rather than socialized, convictions.

It always comes down to the old problem of complacency: Do we want to know what we don’t want to know?

Hurricanes, alarms and suffering can be meaningless if we learn nothing from them.

Kent State now has a direct connection to the anguish of the South in our newly appointed university president.

I cannot know what President-elect Lester Lefton feels as he leaves his position as provost at Tulane University in tormented New Orleans.

I speculate his sense of joy and possibility for the future indiscernibly meshes with regret at leaving a depth of personal ties forged in the hardest of times.

Perhaps he will bring with him to Kent State the wisdom only tragedy can teach.

Theresa Montgomery is a senior newspaper journalism major and columnist for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].